The Philadelphia Flyers were supposed to be better than this. With a captain coming off his best season as a professional, a top line center worthy of Selke consideration, and a pair of young defensemen who could each challenge for the blue line scoring lead, things were supposed to be headed in the right direction. Philadelphia was jam packed with top prospects, and had pushed hard against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round last season. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone to plan.
In fact that plan, the one that Ron Hextall had put in place by accumulating young talent slowly over the years, was thrown out completely. After struggling out of the gate this season Hextall was fired, along with assistant GM Chris Pryor. You couldn’t shake up the front office more than that, and team president Paul Holmgren didn’t take long to find a new boss for the hockey operations, hiring former Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to run the Flyers. Before that though, Holmgren made another firing: assistant coach Gord Murphy. Instead of changing the entire coaching staff, Holmgren fired Murphy and made sure to include in the press release that the decision was made “in consultation with head coach Dave Hakstol.” It seemed then that Hakstol was safe, somehow, from the regime change at the top of the Flyers.
So in came Fletcher, whose first order of business was to replace the outgoing Murphy with long-time NHL assistant coach Rick Wilson. Wilson had been with Fletcher previously in Minnesota, and has been on one bench or another around the league since 1988. Usually when a coach with that much experience is brought in to a struggling team he’s a potential threat to current head man, but with Wilson it may very well be another story entirely. The 68-year old has been an assistant for nearly his entire career, only taking over for Ken Hitchcock in 2001-02 for a 32-game stretch. Again, it seems that Hakstol is safe for now and the new management has put their faith behind him.
The Flyers though lost another heartbreaking game last night when they fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime after coming back to tie it late in the third period. That loss combined with the New Jersey Devils’ win, put the Flyers tied for last place in the Metropolitan Division with a 11-12-3 record. It also tied them with New Jersey for the worst goal differential in the division at -13, a far cry from the team’s expectations before the season began.
So what will Fletcher do to turn things around? Does he wait out the season before making a major move, or try to get things moving in the right direction over the next two months? Is it a personnel change on the ice, or behind the bench that’s needed? Something is surely going to happen to spark the Flyers at some point, but will Hakstol face the same fate that others like John Stevens, Todd McLellan and Joel Quenneville have already suffered this season?
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